Saturday, June 27, 2009

NBA Draft Recap: Change isn't just talk in the NBA

By John McMullen

New York, NY - The mantra of "change" swept Barack Obama into the White House.

Many months later it's now clear, it's business as usual in Washington.

Don't think so?

Consider this. As a senator, Obama denounced the Bush administration for holding "secret energy meetings" with oil executives at the White House. A couple weeks ago, Obama's administration rejected a Freedom of Information Act request for Secret Service logs showing the identities of coal executives who had visited the White House to discuss Obama's "clean coal" policies.

Moral of the story? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Unless you are talking about the NBA.

Conventional wisdom says the salary cap makes it impossible to make significant personnel moves in The Association. But, that's the philosophy of the weak...the GM's that have no imagination or foresight.

Winners tend to be winners for a reason.

That's why it came as no surprise that it was the teams who feel they are on the brink of a championship that made the most noise this week...

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: The Cavs bolstered their frontcourt before the draft by acquiring 15-time All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal from Phoenix in exchange for center Ben Wallace, guard Sasha Pavlovic, Cleveland's second-round pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and cash considerations.

The move will certainly generate interest but it was the Cavs' lack of wing players that proved fatal in the East finals as the Magic spread the floor and took advantage of Cleveland's big men on the defensive end. You really think Shaq helps with that?

In an interview with ESPN during the draft, O'Neal said he was willing to do "whatever it takes" to win a fifth championship. "I was elated about the trade because I get to play with one of the greatest players to play the game in LeBron James," O'Neal said.

During the draft itself, the Cavs yawned, stayed put at 30 and selected swingman Christian Eyenga, an athletic player that will likely be stashed overseas.

"Christian is very athletic and shoots the ball very well," Cavs basketball chief Danny Ferry said. "He has the potential to be a good NBA player. We are excited to work with him, to see his development and help him grow as a player and a person."

ORLANDO MAGIC: The Magic are obviously close after falling to the LA Lakers in the NBA Finals. I would have added a defender and rebounder to help Dwight Howard but Orlando traded for yet another scorer in Vince Carter, giving up Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Courtney Lee.

This could mean a couple of things. The Magic may feel there is no way they can keep Hedo Turkoglu and Carter is the replacement, or the club plans on keeping Turkoglu and outscoring people.

Although nothing is set in stone, insiders say Turkoglu would like a deal similar to the $50 million, five-year package Golden State forward Corey Maggette signed last summer. In that type of scenario, it's very unlikely Orlando would be willing to pay the luxury tax it would take to keep Turkoglu.

"At this point we really don't know where Turk is," Magic president Bob Vander Weide said at Carter's introduction. "Obviously, until he gets forward into free agency, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: A traditional NBA doormat, the Clippers finally found some luck in mid-May, landing the No. 1 overall selection.

While the Clips already possess a plethora of talented frontcourt people with Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman and DeAndre Jordan all able to play the four or the five spot, it was a foregone conclusion that the team would be making room for the consensus No. 1 overall pick, Oklahoma power forward Blake Griffin.

The 6- foot-10, 250-pound Griffin combines a rare work ethic with outstanding athleticism. He lacks polish on the low post, however, and isn't a can't-miss franchise guy like a James or Howard. Griffin really needs to work on his low post skills and develop a mid-range jumper to be a true superstar. That said, he was heads and shoulders above any other prospect in the draft.

"Hopefully I can bring something they don't have," Griffin said. "When nobody expects you to do something, you have the time to work and you have the time to build. Hopefully that's what we'll do over the next year or two years, make playoff pushes and become a team that is regularly in the postseason."

SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Injuries and age took a toll on Gregg Popovich's club last season and many thought the Spurs would have to start to think about the dreaded "R" word -- rebuilding.

The Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is still as imposing as ever when they are on the floor together but the supporting cast really lacks athleticism.

In one fell swoop, San Antonio cured that Tuesday in a three team deal that brought another All-Star caliber player to the Alamo City, forward Richard Jefferson. The Spurs sent veteran defensive stopper Bruce Bowen and forward Kurt Thomas to the Bucks, and also dealt forward Fabricio Oberto to Detroit in the deal. The Pistons sent forward Amir Johnson to Milwaukee.

San Antonio has also made a living finding diamonds in the rough during the draft and may have done it again, snaring a trio of prospects in the second round -- Pitt power forward DeJuan Blair, Miami-Florida guard Jack McClinton and French star Nando De Colo.

Blair was expected to be a mid-first round pick until being red-flagged by a number of team doctors over knee problems.

"This is the worst I've ever seen as far as doctors unwilling to put their butts on the line," said a senior executive of an Eastern conference team told Sports Illustrated. "If there's any kind of gray area, they're going to flunk the player."

DRAFT MUSINGS:

After flirting with Ricky Rubio in the weeks leading up to the draft, the Sacramento Kings threw a curve ball and selected Memphis combo guard Tyreke Evans, raving about his strength and ability to get in the lane. Evans should pair with Kevin Martin to give the Kings an explosive backcourt.

In a draft filled with questionable talent, I had a feeling North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough would go higher than expected and sure enough, Indiana made the leap at No. 13. The hard-working, energy machine is no star but relentlessness is an underrated trait.

The Madison Square Garden crowd wanted Stephen Curry bad and so did the Knicks but sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. Jordan Hill was a top-five talent in this draft and fell into New York's lap thanks to David Kahn's ineptness.

Rubio, originally projected as the second pick by most, "fell" to fifth and ended up on a team that drafted two other point guards (although they did trade Ty Lawson). Rubio looked like someone kicked his dog when Sacramento passed him up at No. 4 and he looked like a relative died when the Wolves selected minutes later. Kahn, the Wolves new GM, says he plans on pairing Rubio and Jonny Flynn in his new backcourt but that will be tough to do if Rubio is in Spain trying to force a trade to the Knicks.

"It's surprising that, aside from me, they choose another point guard at No. 6, but let's see what they want," Rubio told El Pais. "Right now I wouldn't rule out at all returning to Spain."

Technically, UCLA point guard Darren Collison was a reach at No. 22 by the Hornets but I doubt you will find many stars in this draft from 20-30. So, why not pick the solid role player and get a nice backup for Chris Paul?

Collison's running mate at UCLA, Jrue Holiday, fell all the way to Philadelphia at No. 17. Holiday, who played just one year with the Bruins, is a project but he was a top-10 talent. Question is, who plays point guard for the Sixers this year? Andre Miller is an unrestricted free agent and Lou Williams is a shoot first guy.

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